By Russ Feingold, candidate for U.S. Senate

I’ve always been a firm believer that if you want to represent the people of Wisconsin, then you have to actually get out and listen to them. You can’t simply give big speeches or go on cable TV and declare that you have the solutions. If you’re not listening to people right here, you don’t truly understand the priorities and concerns that families have for the future.

My belief was only reaffirmed in the wake of last weekend’s shooting and the ensuing unrest. We should remember that this strife is directly linked to the fact that people do not feel that their leaders adequately hear them, their concerns, and their hopes for the future. Too many politicians fail to realize the very real institutional barriers of racism facing our communities and too many refuse to seriously consider how to address these barriers and their economic symptoms going forward.

So when I kicked off this campaign, I listened to as many people as possible. And whether it was sitting down with seniors at Clinton Rose or visiting with Andre Lee Ellis and other volunteers for a community garden cleanup, over and over I’ve heard the same thing: people tell me that they want to live in safe, thriving neighborhoods. They want an economy that works for them – not just for those who are already well off. They want to be able to pay the bills, send their kids to a good school, and plan for a secure retirement without having to worry that it could all fall apart in a moment’s notice.

People tell me that even though those at the top are doing well, in too many of our communities, families are still struggling to get ahead.

They’re tired of Washington politicians like Sen. Johnson simply ignoring our communities. Instead of listening to the people they’re supposed to represent, they go off to Washington and work to protect a system that only benefits corporate CEOs and Sen. Johnson’s fellow multi-millionaires who don’t care at all if our communities have the jobs, schools, and resources they need to thrive and compete.

In fact, Sen. Johnson has proven that he’s more concerned with protecting Donald Trump’s bank account than he is with investing in the working families of Milwaukee.

That’s simply unacceptable. Milwaukeeans deserve leaders who will put their needs first. Sen. Johnson has refused to do so. Since heading off to Washington as a part of the Tea Party wave, he’s completely abandoned the working families that serve as the backbone of this community. On the issues that matter most, Sen. Johnson has consistently sided with the corporate CEOs at the expense of our friends and neighbors.

I believe that Milwaukee’s families deserve a raise. That’s why I’m proud to support the fight to increase the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour. If you work hard and have a full-time job, you shouldn’t be forced to live in poverty. Sen. Johnson simply disagrees. In fact his position is so extreme, that he doesn’t even believe there should be a federal minimum wage at all. If he had it his way, big corporations could pay absurdly low wages to our workers without regard to the families who depend on them to put food on the table.

But Sen. Johnson’s concern is not with Milwaukee’s families – it’s with the profit margins of the powerful corporations. He’s spent years in Washington protecting corporate loopholes while the same corporations turn around and ship more and more Wisconsin jobs overseas. And he’s voted for every bad trade deal to cross his desk while in the Senate. He even voted to fast track the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the latest bad deal that would see even more Wisconsin jobs lost to countries like China.

We’ve seen too many jobs in Milwaukee disappear, too many once flourishing neighborhoods blighted, and too many hardworking Wisconsinites unable to get ahead while the corporations grow bigger and reap record profits. We simply can’t afford another six years of Sen. Johnson’s corporate handouts.

Instead of handouts to big business, I think the best way to get our communities back on track is to actually invest in our young Wisconsinites. After all, they’re the ones who will buy the new homes and start the small businesses that will drive our economy.

But one of the things I’ve heard more than anything else is that for too many families, the promise of a brighter future for their kids is dimmed by the increasing burden of paying for a good education.  In 2014, 70% of Wisconsin students carried loan debt. Of those students, the average burden was some $28,000.  This is staggering, and it’s only made more burdensome by Washington politicians like Sen. Johnson who won’t let these students refinance their loan debt.

Sen. Johnson is so extreme, that he calls federal student loans “free money” and doesn’t even believe there should be any federal student loans at all.

Sen. Johnson is not only out of touch on this issue, but he’s actually making it harder for our young people to succeed. We should be expanding opportunities for young people in this city – not limiting them.  That’s why I want to let students refinance their loan debt just like you can a mortgage. Higher education and a path to a more comfortable life shouldn’t just be for the rich. Parents in Sherman Park should be just as confident as those anywhere in the country that their kids will have greater opportunities in life.

That’s what this election is about. Sen. Johnson has spent years in Washington looking out for the richest Americans and the powerful CEOs who only care about their own bottom line. Our campaign will always be about the middle class and working families who have suffered because of his disastrous record. These families tell me that they want leaders who will listen to and fight for them. If I’m lucky enough to earn your vote this November, that’s exactly what I’ll do in the U.S. Senate..

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